The first Chinese train to Spain
completed a 26 Mm round trip on a new cargo line through Kazakhstan,
Belarus, Poland, Germany, and France.
View from Russian Bear of
RAF Typhoon off Cornwall
"Marx to the left of
Thatcher to the
Here I am,
stuck in the middle
Photo: Fiona Hanson
"I'm preparing for
my final years."
AR He's younger than me!
Dresden 70 years
left 25,000 dead
2015 February 27
Jessica T. Mathews
Bret Stephens believes that
international security is skidding downhill. The evidence suggests
otherwise. The number of armed conflicts is down by more than one
third since the end of the cold war. Recent years have also been
ones of declining threat from weapons of mass destruction. There are
now far fewer nuclear weapons in the world and fewer countries with
nuclear programs than there were twenty years ago. Stephens urges a
US global hegemony.
have so pacified Homo sap with nukes that the US Globocop looks
musclebound and Trident like overkill.
An IS militant: "These antiquities and idols behind
me were from people in past centuries and were worshiped instead of
God. When God Almighty orders to us destroy these statues, idols and
antiquities, we must do it, even if they're worth billions of
AR My psychology of
revelation gives such inner compulsion a logical semantics in which
"orders" like these arise from brain states.
2015 February 26
The economic system that we have created has
also created global warming. The system is broken. The lack of
restraint on the part of the energy companies is disastrous.
We are going to experience global warming and far more natural
disasters. But we still have time to prevent truly catastrophic
warming. We also have time to change our economic system.
have to make some decisions now about what values are important to
us and how we really want to live. As long as we have a chance to
minimize the damage, we have to continue to fight.
We need a
dramatic change both in policy and ideology, because there is a
fundamental difference between what the scientists are telling us we
need to do and our current political reality.
The system in
which we live sees all growth as good. But there are kinds of growth
that are clearly not good. Emissions are rising and climate change
We need an economic and political transformation,
one based on stronger communities, sustainable jobs, greater
regulation, and a departure from this obsession with growth.
2015 February 25
As the only Muslim-led member of NATO, Turkey
has a central role to play in the Mideast. Turks aim to topple
Bashar al-Assad in Syria and to ensure that the Kurds do not exploit
Mideast chaos to carve out their own state. In both these aims,
Islamic State is not so much an enemy as a useful tool.
communicate with IS commanders and help support the IS economy. They
do not let NATO jets bomb Islamic State from Incirlik, the US
airbase in Turkey. Turkish forces went into Syria only to rescue the
holy tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the
Turkey is playing a double game. For now, we
will just have to pretend to be friends.
Well Done, Old Chap!
UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
deserves a "pat on the back" for Britain's economic recovery and
should be allowed to "finish the job" of performing a "textbook"
recovery, says OECD secretary-general Ángel Gurría: "The UK has made
tremendous progress exiting from the worst economic crisis of our
lifetime. Job creation is remarkable and growth is strong."
2015 February 24
The New Way of War
Douglas A. Ollivant
Wars today are brutal and manpower
intensive. We encounter professionals who intermingle with the
population, outside national bounds, in spaces that belong to no
state or only tenuously to a state.
The United States must
1 We need to rethink the
way we go about buying our military hardware. The debacles of both
F-35 aircraft and the US Army DCGS intelligence architecture
are well documented.
2 We need
forces that work with allied forces in spaces where the state is
weak or nonexistent. Special forces teams are the capability most
needed for future warfare.
need prepared and ready land power. Indigenous land power supported
by US airpower will continue to be the preferred approach, but the
United States still needs a reliable ground force.
4 The Pentagon should focus on systems
that push power and information to the edge of the system. In our
age the force of choice has had access to centralized information.
The forces of choice for the future will need to have information
pushed out to them.
personnel management systems have defects in recruiting and
development. We need new proposals that increase flexibility and
expand the talent pool without degrading the production of leaders
who can take young men into combat.
Warfare has not changed fundamentally. Wars will continue to be
fought by young men over issues of fear, honor and interest, much
2015 February 23
Islamic State is very Islamic. Virtually
every major decision and law it promulgates adheres to the Prophetic
methodology. The Prophet reportedly said the armies of Rome will set
up camp in the Syrian city of Dabiq. The armies of Islam will meet
them and defeat them there. After that, the caliphate will expand
and sack Istanbul. An Antichrist from Iran will kill vast numbers
until just a few remain, cornered in Jerusalem. Then Jesus will
return to Earth and lead the Muslims to victory.
2015 February 22
Shortly after May 2015, the UK government will decide on
replacing the Trident SLBM force V-boats with Successor-class SSBNs.
A decision to go will lock the UK into capital spending of up to £33
billion by 2032 on the new subs, and this will likely lead to the UK
operating Trident beyond 2050 at a total LCC of about £109 billion.
If the UK scraps plans for Successor-class SSBNs and moves to a
free-fall nuclear capability based on LM F-35C JSF DCA and US B61-12
PGM, an alternative nuclear force based on 100 B61-12s has a capital
cost of less than £17 billion. This includes:
• Associated nuclear storage and C2
• Conversion of both QE-class
aircraft carriers for CATOBAR
5 additional Astute-class SSNs
4 additional Type 26 frigates
6 shipborne AEW&C and 4 COD aircraft
Converting the 14 RAF Voyager for flying boom AAR
• 8 P-8 class MPA/MMA
these investments will enhance UK conventional force projection
capabilities and precision conventional strike capability.
AR The VfM + LCC argument is convincing.
Go for F-35C + B61-12.
2015 February 21
700th Anniversary Lecture by Dr Rowan Williams:
Churches and Holy Societies"
University Church of St Mary the
Virgin, High Street, Oxford
Followed by tea in Exeter College
The Conscious Web
Kevin Kelly says AI will enliven inert
objects in the way that electricity did over 100 years ago.
"Everything that we formerly electrified, we will now cognitize."
The internet of things (IoT) will link countless objects and
people with embedded wireless identifiers that communicate
autonomously, with 50 billion nodes by 2020.
sees the IoT as the biggest online development yet. He thinks we
should "expect our devices to anticipate us in all sorts of ways"
and points to Google Now.
David Chalmers and others speculate
that all things in the universe might be (or potentially be)
conscious. If so, could we in the midst of a conscious web?
Teilhard de Chardin envisioned a global sphere of thought called the
noosphere. He saw it as the evolutionary step beyond our geosphere
AR This scenario
is my Globorg hypothesis — see my books, from
2015 February 20
Germany is not pulling its weight against the
Russian threat. UK defense secretary Michael Fallon says the
Russians pose a "a real and present danger" to the Baltic members of
Every euro for the Greeks is one less for the
Bundeswehr. German disarmament since the fall of the Berlin wall has
been greater than that from the Versailles treaty after World War I.
At the end of the Cold War the army had eight Panzer divisions. Now
it has some 63,000 active soldiers.
NATO is looking thin.
Britain and France have their eyes on other problems. Their armies
are being rebuilt around the concept of agility, meaning
lightweight. German troops played a minor role in Afghanistan, but
in Europe the German army could play to its historic strengths.
German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen will overhaul
German strategy in the light of the conflict in Ukraine. A new
approach is needed for when diplomacy fails. Germany could
reinvigorate NATO by reconstituting six Panzer divisions to build up
150,000 armored troops.
Former Polish foreign minister Radek
Sikorsky: "I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in
history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I
am beginning to fear German inactivity."
2015 February 19
Evolution of Eukaryotes
David Baum and Buzz Baum
The evolution of the eukaryotic
cell was a critical event for life on Earth.
eukaryotic cell is an intricate meshwork of membranes called the
endoplasmic reticulum (ER), interspersed with other structures such
as mitochondria. At the core is the nucleus, a large compartment
with a double membrane, within which lies the DNA. This type of
cellular organization distinguishes eukaryotes from prokaryotes.
Perhaps the eukaryotic cell evolved when a prokaryote folded
parts of its outer membrane inwards, pinching off portions to
generate internal compartments. Some membranes then wrapped around
the DNA to make the nuclear membrane, while others morphed into the
ER. Other cells engulfed by the cell went on to become mitochondria.
We propose that eukaryotic cells evolved when a prokaryote
extruded blobs of outer membrane through its cell wall. These then
fused to form the peripheral parts of the eukaryotic cell that
contain the ER and mitochondria. The outer membrane of the
eukaryotic cell is new. The nuclear envelope is the boundary of the
Our model explains features of the ER
and the nuclear membrane.
2015 February 18
In 2008, capitalism had a global spasm.
The financial crisis set off a chain reaction that pushed Europe
into a downward spiral that continues to this day.
crisis of European capitalism is far less likely to give birth to a
better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously
regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian
bloodbath. We need to arrest the free fall of European capitalism in
order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.
Karl Marx created a narrative populated by workers and others who
struggled to harness reason and science in the context of empowering
humanity. Contrary to their intentions, they unleashed demonic
forces that usurped and subverted their own freedom and humanity.
This dialectical perspective on the great contradictions of the
capitalist era dissolved the paradox of an age that generated the
most remarkable wealth and the most conspicuous poverty. Beside the
dialectical relation of debts and surpluses, of growth and
unemployment, of wealth and poverty, indeed of good and evil, Marx
discovered another binary opposition: the contradiction between
human labour as a source of value that can never be quantified in
advance and labour as a quantity that is for sale and comes at a
Economic theory that treats human and other productive
inputs as interchangeable assumes that the dehumanization of human
labour is complete. But if it could ever be completed, the result
would be the end of capitalism as a system of value.
capital ever succeeds in commodifying labour, it will also squeeze
that human freedom from within labour that allows for the generation
of value. The portrayal of human freedom as an economic category is
unique in Marx.
Marx made the greatest contribution any
economist has ever made to our understanding of the contradiction
buried in capitalism. Capital can never win in its struggle to turn
labour into an infinitely elastic input without destroying itself.
Marx argued that wealth is collectively produced and then
privately appropriated through social relations of production and
property rights that rely on false consciousness.
have convinced a large array of people that markets are not just a
useful means to an end but also an end in themselves. The great
objective behind liberalism was to separate the economic sphere from
the political sphere and to confine politics to the latter, leaving
economics to capital.
Margaret Thatcher delivered a shock to
the UK. The recession her government engineered destroyed
progressive politics and the notion of values that transcended
What good will it do today to call for a
dismantling of the eurozone?
We must try to minimize the human
toll from this crisis.
Varoufakis is the Greek minister of finance.
2015 February 17
SAP S/4 HANA
SAP S/4 HANA is the biggest innovation since
R/3. SAP is breaking all limitations of the past, with a completely
Simpler: Complexity is the most
intractable business problem that all companies face today. SAP S/4
HANA will remove complexity from core systems and help companies
return to standard. CIOs will be able to reduce their company data
footprints and show a huge gain in performance. A focus on
parallelism without locking improves throughput. Companies get more
Faster: Custom code and
modifications hinder innovation. Critical modifications we can host
on the SAP HANA cloud platform. By getting back to a standard code
line, we open businesses up to a much faster innovation cycle.
Without long upgrade cycles or waiting for enhancement packs,
businesses can consume innovation frequently. CIOs can become
trusted innovation partners.
will guide SAP S/4 HANA deployment either on premise or via the
cloud. They will have the option to consume innovation packages
delivered either in the public cloud or on the SAP HANA enterprise
cloud. On premise customers can consume updates more frequently.
Companies with SAP S/4 HANA on premise can easily convert to SAP S/4
HANA on the cloud.
With complexity eliminated and innovation
easily adoptable, companies can become faster and better at what
AR I was in the HANA
team. We broke new ground.
2015 February 16
The July 2011, massacre by Anders Breivik was
the worst mass killing in Norwegian history. In a long
Breivik revealed a preoccupation with Islamic colonization abetted
by the ruling Labor Party. He had been in the Progress Party, which
warned about stealth Islamization. In 2013, the Labor Party was
voted out and replaced by the Conservative Party in coalition with
the Progress Party.
Thanks to oil, Norway's GDP per capita is
now more than $100,000. It has low income inequality and leads the
world in gender equality. Its cities are clean, almost every child
gets a public education, the prisons are models of rehabilitation,
and all tax returns are published online. The Norwegian government
sends more humanitarian aid abroad per capita than any country.
After 9/11, opposition to Muslims and Islam entered Norwegian
politics. A community of Islamophobes supported the Eurabia theory
that there was a conspiracy to Islamize Europe. Young Norwegian
Muslims founded Islam Net, an online youth organization with a
Salafist ideology, raising suspicions that it was a pathway to
radicalization. Hostility to Muslims in Norway is growing.
Muhammad began to preach to his fellow
Meccans in 612 CE. His message was based on the Quran, a new
revelation for the people of Arabia. Many believed that their god
Allah was identical with the god of the Jews and Christians. The
bedrock message of the Quran was simply that it was good to share
your wealth with the poor and vulnerable and to treat them with
2015 February 15
Classical and Quantum Gravity
The team responsible for the
visual effects in Interstellar developed new code to generate the
movie images of the wormhole and black hole Gargantua. When a camera
is close up to a rapidly spinning black hole, surfaces known as
caustics create multiple images of individual stars and of the plane
of the galaxy in which the black hole lives. The images are
concentrated along one edge of the black hole shadow and are caused
by the black hole dragging space into a whirling motion and
stretching the caustics around itself many times. The code mapped
the paths of millions of lights beams as they passed through warped
spacetime to make an iconic image for the movie.
hole focuses a light beam emitted from any point on a caustic
surface into a bright cusp of light. All the caustics but one wrap
around the sky many times when the camera is close to the black
hole. As each caustic passes by a star, it either creates two new
images of the star as seen by the camera or annihilates two old
images of the star. The simulations showed the caustics creating and
annihilating a huge number of stellar images. On the opposite side
of the shadow, the multiple images of each star are compressed
inward and are not seen in the images.
Kip Thorne: "This new
approach to making images will be of great value to astrophysicists
like me. We too need smooth images."
2015 February 14
Master of the Universe
Guy Spier read PPE at Brasenose with Dave
Cameron. After Oxford and Harvard Business School, Spier headed
straight to a toxic New York brokerage firm. Eighteen months later,
no one in the financial industry would employ him. He grasped that
the secret to making money is first to turn yourself into the kind
of person who is good at making money.
He renouncing the
excitement of shorting, of bubbles, of vertiginous rises and
headlong falls, in favor of value investing. He learned to spot
which companies are going to do well and then backed them for the
long run, knowing that their value will increase steadily over time.
He realized that the quest for value extends far beyond
financial markets into a whole way of life. He quit the buzz of New
York for the dull life of Zurich. He located his office well away
from the financial center and just ten minutes from home.
philosophy: the happier you are and the better you are at making
others happy, the more easily you generate an environment in which
you thrive not just personally but financially.
Stephen Green: clergyman, banking
executive, then chairman of HSBC from 2003 to 2010, and author of
Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain
After his elevation, Lord Green joined the Coalition
government as a trade minister. Now he has nothing to say on the
aggressive tax avoidance procured by his bank's Swiss subsidiary on
his watch, or on allegations of tax evasion.
AR I once chatted with Stephen at a
college dinner in Zurich (we are old boys of the same Oxford
college). Nice chap, moral and religious. Oops!
2015 February 13
What Putin fears most in this confrontation
is not the introduction of some Western tanks or rockets but a
thriving, prosperous Ukraine. It would be an example to the rest of
the former Soviet republics that a better, richer life can be had
under Western styles of governance and economics than under Putin's
dream of a resuscitated USSR.
Messages to ETI
Douglas Vokoch, of the SETI Institute in
California, advocates beaming powerful radio messages to
hypothetical alien civilizations advanced enough to read them.
Vokoch: "With recent detection of Earth-like planets in the
habitable zones of other stars, we have natural targets for such
transmission projects. Some would argue that we should avoid
powerful transmissions at all costs for fear of an alien invasion.
If this mindset became entrenched, it would signal a guarded vision
for humankind as isolationist, avoiding exploration, trying to
minimize risk at any cost."
2015 February 12
The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and
France may be close to agreement following all-night talks in the
Belarus capital Minsk on resolving the Ukraine conflict.
AR Hope it works. We're not ready for
2015 February 11
MIT Technology Review
Power has begun work on a nuclear reactor that would be smaller
and safer than a conventional unit. The design uses molten salt as
its coolant, making it safe from meltdown, and it can burn nuclear
waste without making material for weapons. Based on a
reactor developed and tested 50 years ago at Oak Ridge National
Laboratory, the new design uses zirconium hydride as a moderator,
protected from the corrosive molten salts by silicon carbide.
Experiments will test whether the new materials perform as expected.
The work is supported by
2015 February 10
Anglo-American liberalism has never been the
sole version of the tradition. The French tradition treats modern
individualism as a historical product rather than a natural fact.
Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers appealed to the classical
past in order to attack Christian oppression. They encouraged their
heirs to skirt the roots of liberalism in the Christianity that
flourished in the Middle Ages.
The Middle Ages were much more
Christian than liberal. We need to explain the move from a refusal
of the relevance of Christian moral beliefs in politics to a
revolution in assumptions about the subordination of individuals to
The monotheists made the divine so otherworldly
that man was liberated. Christianity severed the monotheist promise
from terrestrial fulfillment and inscribed it in the soul. The same
revolution that alienated individuals in relation to the world
inadvertently prepared their independence from the divine and
deprived politics of any sacred meaning.
Axel Honneth: "One of the major weaknesses of contemporary
political philosophy is that it has been decoupled from an analysis
of society, instead becoming fixated on purely normative
2015 February 9
The digital economy does not so much disrupt
what went before as destroy it. We need to ask what kind of world we
want to live in. For most authors, editors, photographers, and
musicians, the 25 years since the birth of the web have been a
disaster. The winners take all, the rest wither and die. The
internet has not been an unmitigated success.
The A Team
Below: In front of
Setchfields model shop
Above: With statue of
hero of Mafeking and
former owner of
Left: In front of the
historic Custom House
East meets West
Juliet Marine Systems
Math And Sex
Mathematics can be as good
as sex. We are
drawn to math.
Beauty is part of the process.
Brain scans show that
the experience of mathematical
beauty excites the same area of
brain as music or art. Math
prodigy Paul Erdős claimed that
proofs were so perfect
they were divine.
Russian Bear over
Poole Bay last week
2015 February 8
over the Delhi Durbar, the Emperor of India King George V and his
consort Queen Mary announced that the capital of the Raj was to
be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi and laid the foundation stone for
the Viceroy's new residence in Coronation Park.
1931 Construction completed, New
Delhi inaugurated. Viceroy of India Lord Irwin invited Mohandas
Gandhi to his palace for tea. They agreed that the Indian National
Congress would call off civil disobedience and the British would
release political prisoners and move toward participatory
1932 Viceroy Lord
Willingdon invoked emergency powers and imprisoned tens of thousands
of non-violent protesters, including Gandhi, who promptly went on
Singapore, and Burma fell to the Japanese. British power in Asia was
1947 India became
independent and Pakistan was created.
India rejected the King Emperor George VI and declared itself
2015 February 7
East Meets West
A charity evening
featuring Indian cuisine and culture
Newtown Conservative Club, Poole
Half of EU Voters Back Reform
A survey in four major European countries
finds that voters want change in the European Union.
of the people polled believe the EU should be reformed:
46% in Germany
49% in the Netherlands
49% in the
The US Navy is in a revolutionary period of
change. Juliet Marine Systems in Portsmouth, NH, has developed a
supercavitating surface craft as a testbed for technology it plans
to apply in a prototype Unmanned Undersea Vehicle.
rides on twin submerged buoyant tubular foils. It is a combination
of stealth fighter aircraft and attack helicopter technologies
packaged in a marine platform. Systems for integrating its weapons
will be capable of engaging multiple targets while GHOST operates at
very high speed.
AR Reminds me of
Turbinia, the "ocean greyhound" that dazzled onlookers at
Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review in 1897 (and of the
"bubbleboat" I designed 55 years ago).
2015 February 6
The first stars were born over 100 million
years later than we thought, says ESA Planck data.
The CMB is
the stretched relic of the "Let there be light" epoch 12 Ts after
the big bang. Planck mapped the CMB and the team has analyzed it to
find that the cosmic dark ages lasted longer than we thought. The
Planck predecessor WMAP put the start of the era at about 420 My
ABB. Now Planck sets back the start of reionization to about 550 My
The Planck data rules out the BICEP2 claim to have
detected primordial gravitational waves.
2015 February 5
Drinks and talk with UK transport minister
The Old Vicarage, Bere Regis, Dorset
Last March, cosmologists found apparent
evidence that spacetime rippled during the big bang. Astronomers at
the BICEP2 observatory reported signs of gravitational waves in the
CMB consistent with inflation. Later researchers using ESA Planck
data suggested that the BICEP2 signal could be due to dust in the
galaxy. Now another study shows that the dust can explain the BICEP2
2015 February 4
Convert Railways to Busways
Institute of Economic Affairs
Commuters could pay 40%
less to travel and more passengers could get a seat if some commuter
railways in London were converted into busways:
Commuter railways move a quarter of a million passengers into London
during the morning peak hour, many of whom have to stand, when 150
express coaches could seat them all using one seventh of the
capacity of a one-lane busway.
Journey time: Express coaches
would deliver similar travel speeds but operate more frequently.
Door-to-door time savings for coaches operating from suburbs and
villages would be greater.
Cost: Converting commuter railways
into busways would reduce fares for passengers. Conversion costs
would be high but adding new rail capacity and rail subsidies would
The government spends £6 billion a year on the rail
network. It funds about 40% of spending on the heavy rail network.
Although 90% of passengers and 70% of freight traffic go by road,
state spending on railways is only 30% lower than that on roads.
Policy decisions on rail have reflected political priorities
rather than economic logic.
2015 February 3
The global #1 public health crisis is a
soaring number of motorcycle fatalities. Across Asia, 2 and 3
wheeled vehicles account for about a third of all highway deaths,
with the highest numbers in SE Asia. Road crashes cost SE Asian
economies some 3% of GDP. Governments talk of making roads safer but
see accidents as the price of progress.
2015 February 1
Russia Versus NATO
Western policies have failed to deter Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin has not been dissuaded from his goals in
Ukraine. Sanctions imposed by the European Union and Washington have
imposed a price, but not one high enough to deter Russia from
continuing to carve out a large chunk of Ukraine.
Ukraine, NATO steps to reassure its members in eastern Europe,
primarily Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, are woefully inadequate.
NATO needs a new approach to ensure that deterrence is restored for
the Baltics and eastern Europe, a few hundred miles from the heart
To strengthen NATO, the main step was a
contingency fund to allow increased military exercises. But to
bolster the defense of Poland, instead of the new military base that
the Polish government had offered to host, the United States sent in
a unit of 200 soldiers to rotate in and out of the country during
Western leaders need to take dramatic steps to
show solidarity with new NATO members in the east. The time to worry
about Russian sensibilities is past. Moscow has charted a path of
war. The West must chart a wiser path to peace.
Chandra X-ray observatory image of
Large Magellanic Cloud star remnant SNR 0519-69.0
"Der 8. Mai war ein
Tag der Befreiung."
Richard von Weizsäcker
Globall goes virtual
EZ €1.1T QE
Demo in Hannover
Demo in London
Monday marches by PEGIDA activists have
transformed Dresden into a Mecca for Islamophobes.
2015 January 31
Yuval Noah Harari
Terror is a military strategy that
hopes to change the political situation by spreading fear rather
than by causing material damage. This strategy is almost always
adopted by very weak parties.
Terrorists aim to beat the
rival with the rival's own power. They leave all the important
decisions in the hands of the enemy. People turn to terrorism
because they know they cannot wage war, so they opt instead to
produce a theatrical spectacle.
Like terrorists, those
combating terrorism should also think more like theater producers
and less like army generals. To fight terrorism effectively we must
realize that nothing the terrorists do can defeat us. We are the
only ones who can defeat ourselves, if we overreact in a misguided
way to terrorist provocations.
The legitimacy of the modern
state is based on its promise to keep the public sphere free of
political violence. This is what makes the theater of terrorism so
successful. A huge space empty of political violence acts as a
The most efficient answer to terrorism might
be good intelligence and clandestine action against the networks of
money that feed terrorism. But this is not something citizens can
see on television.
I came into science from the philosophical side of
wanting to understand consciousness and subjectivity. Then I had to know more about the brain in order to be
able to talk about the mind.
When you have certain
experiences in meditation, or with psychedelics, that show you a
very different possibility for your experiences, moment to moment,
those don't tell you anything about the nature of the cosmos. These experiences do entitle you to say something about the
nature of human experience and its possibilities. We can then understand them further by
understanding what's happening in the brain when we have them.
The self is an idea which we know doesn't
actually make sense in terms of what's going on at the level of the
brain. And it also doesn't make sense if you pay close attention to your conscious experience. I think the good life question is the most important
2015 January 30
Great engineers have a passion to improve
life. What drives them is the conviction that they can find a better
way to do things. Instead of complaining, they think of ways to make
things better. Engineering has made a greater positive difference to
human life than almost any other human endeavor.
I am concerned about super intelligence. First
the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super
intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few
decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a
One project I am working on with Microsoft is the
Personal Agent which will remember everything and help you go back
and find things and help you pick what things to pay attention to.
The agent will work across all your devices.
AR Ah yes, absent-minded middle age.
2015 January 29
Gaming was the focus of the original Oculus
Rift VR headset. Oculus was bought by Facebook last year for $2
billion. The $200 Samsung Gear VR headset is built in partnership
Augmented reality lays virtual elements on top
of the real world instead of taking you into an entirely contained
experience. Google has invested more than $500 million in AR company
2015 January 28
A team of Microsoft engineers, designers, and
researchers has toiled to create an augmented reality headset called
HoloLens. The device weaves digital elements into the real world in
a magical merging of the virtual and physical.
I used it to
install a light switch. I put on a headset and looked at a hole in
the wall and a row of tools. An engineer Skyped in on my screen,
introduced himself, and drew a holographic circle around a voltage
tester. Then he walked me through the process of installing the
switch, sketching quick arrows and diagrams that glowed on the wall
in front of me. Five minutes later, I flipped the switch and turned
the light on.
This is the next computing interface. In this
new reality, sensors will be everywhere, producing copious amounts
of data, a layer of ambient intelligence coating every physical
object. The technology will offer a visual computing platform
controlled by speech and gesture that is so intuitive it fades into
HoloLens has three controls, to adjust
volume, to adjust the contrast of the hologram, and to power on or
off, all powered by Windows 10. When it comes to market toward the
end of this year, it will weigh about the same as a bike helmet.
NASA saw its potential to help space explorers collaborate more
closely and to provide presence. A team built a Mars simulation that
works so well that NASA plans to deploy the technology on a mission
by this summer.
AR This is right
for now. Google Glass was a step too far.
2015 January 27
The Moral Arc
When I talk about a moral arc of
progress, I mean an improvement in the survival and flourishing of
individual sentient beings. My argument is one for natural rights.
Social problems such as homicide and violence ought to be
treated as public health issues. If you agree that millions of lives
have been saved over the past couple of centuries by a reduction in
violence due to improved technologies and policies, then you might
well concur that applying the methods of the social sciences to
solving problems such as crime and violence is also something we
ought to do.
The survival and flourishing of sentient beings
is our moral starting point. Most people act in what they consider
to be moral ways. When we can clearly see that they are in fact
behaving in ways that lead to the suffering or death of sentient
beings, it is probably more accurate to say that they are mistaken
in their beliefs than that they are simply immoral or evil. And the
solution is that we need to correct their mistaken beliefs. Science
and reason are the best tools we have for doing that. Ultimately
moral progress comes about from generating better ideas rather than
The moral arc is not a smooth curve, but the
moral progress we have made is real and lasting. The trends are
encouraging. We have good reasons for optimism about the future of
Auschwitz 70 years on
2015 January 25
AR Excellent: a
better cinematic introduction to Chalmers' Hard Problem and the
AGI issue would be hard to imagine.
2015 January 24
In Tucson, Arizona, in 1994, David
Chalmers gave a talk on consciousness. Stuart Hameroff, the Arizona
professor responsible for the event, recalls: "He comes on stage,
hair down to his butt, he's prancing around like Mick Jagger. But
then he speaks. And that's when everyone wakes up."
introduced the Hard Problem of Consciousness: Why should brain
processes feel like anything from the inside? Two decades later, the
field of artificial intelligence has advanced stupendously. But the
Hard Problem remains.
René Descartes identified the dilemma
that would tie scholars in knots for years to come. You are
conscious. But this most certain and familiar of phenomena obeys
none of the usual rules of science. The mind must be made of some
special stuff. Cartesian dualism remained the governing assumption
into the early days of modern brain study.
"Evolution could have produced zombies instead of conscious
creatures ... I can see how you're behaving, I could do a brain
scan, and find out exactly what's going on in your brain, yet it
seems it could be consistent with all that evidence that you have no
consciousness at all."
Chalmers is fond of clambering on
stage to sing The Zombie Blues, a lament about the miseries of
having no consciousness. It would be satisfying if a theory were to
vanquish the Hard Problem. Chalmers has no particular confidence
that a consensus will emerge in the next century.
AR Chalmers' work inspired my book
2015 January 23
Drinks reception with Liam Fox
St Nicolas Church, Corfe Mullen
The New York Times
The HoloLens is wondrous. It suggests
that interacting with holograms could become an important part of
how we use machines in the future. Microsoft has clearly put a great
deal of engineering work into this project. When you put on the
device, which looks like ski goggles, you see 3D digital controls as
well as images from a video game superimposed on the world around
you. The holograms do not have very high resolution, but they are
crisp enough to create the illusion of reality.
draw comparisons with Google Glass. Both devices mix digital images
and daily life, and both make you look silly when you wear them. But
Glass mostly keeps the digital images out of your field of vision
and is thus more suited to be used in public. The HoloLens immerses
you more deeply in a digital environment. Glass is meant to be more
like a replacement for your phone while the HoloLens seems more like
a substitute for the personal computer. It's meant to be useful.
AR See chapter 0001 of my 2010 book
G.O.D. Is Great.
2015 January 22
The billionaires and corporate oligarchs
meeting in Davos this week are getting worried about inequality.
For 35 years, market fundamentalism has ruled. Inequality in
income and wealth has ballooned both between and within the large
majority of countries. Under this regime of privatization,
deregulation, and low taxes on the rich, finance has sucked wealth
from the public realm into the hands of a small minority and laid
waste the rest of the economy. Not only is such appropriation of
wealth a moral and social outrage, but it is fueling social and
climate conflict, wars, mass migration, and political corruption,
stunting health and life chances, increasing poverty, and widening
gender and ethnic divides.
Escalating inequality has been a
crucial factor in the economic crisis of the past 7 years.
2015 January 21
Geert Wilders could become the next prime
minister of Holland. Ten years ago, his proposals were mostly seen
as the ravings of an extremist. Now reporters call him a populist
and no longer dismiss his xenophobic rants.
becoming increasingly hostile to Muslims and immigrants.
Islamophobes are burning mosques in Sweden and marching by the tens
of thousands in Germany. Wilders: "This is war."
he hates Islam, not Muslims: "The biggest disease we have faced in
the last decades in Europe is cultural relativism, the idea by
liberals and leftist politicians that all cultures are equal. They
are not. Our culture, based on Christianity, humanism and Judaism,
is a better culture."
He abjures violence: "We should be
tolerant to people who are tolerant to us. We should be intolerant
to people who are intolerant to us."
Michel Houellebecq is a satirist. The
principal target of his new satire is not French Islam but the
spinelessness of the French intellectual class. The portrait of the
Islamic regime is quite fond. The reform of education, the
reinforcement of the family, even the re-domestication of women are
all held up for admiration.
Like most satirists worth
reading, Houellebecq is a conservative. The Muslim warriors are
inspired by the austere ideal of submission to authority. But the
great majority of Muslim kids will do what kids everywhere do:
pursue their own interests within the system. Sharia law is the last
thing they want.
2015 January 20
Darwinian evolution takes random variation
and sieves it by natural selection. But the landscape that the
evolutionary process explores has a remarkable structure.
computer program can predict the simplest features of an RNA shape
from its sequence. RNA molecules with the same shape can vary very
widely in sequence. You can go from one sequence to another with the
same shape via a succession of small changes called neutral
Any given sequence in the search space has a huge
number of neighboring sequences that have completely different
shapes, yet it can still mutate step by step into a different
sequence with a similar function. So the search space is navigable:
You can change the genotype neutrally, without losing the phenotype.
RNA can evolve.
Proteins have this property too. Different
organisms often possess proteins with the same shape and function,
yet typically these will share no more than a fifth of their amino
acids in common. It seems evolvability is a fundamental feature of
For many organisms, you can obliterate many
of their individual genes to no obvious effect. There are plenty of
similar gene circuits that do much the same job as the original one.
A network that can evolve new features and forms among a vast array
of alternatives must be robust against small changes.
property of biological systems even deeper than evolutionary
processes is the landscape of possible shapes. The landscape has a
topology in which functionally similar combinations of the component
parts are connected into vast webs that stretch throughout a
multidimensional space, each intricately woven amid countless
The structure of these combinatorial landscapes of
biomolecules enables nature to innovate rather than only making
incremental variations on what already exists. Evolution can take a
random walk along a web of neutral mutations. Through neutral drift,
organisms can reach locations in phase space inaccessible by
adaptive mutation from their original starting position.
Evolvability and openness to innovation are features of information.
Darwinian evolution is a result of how information is organized in
AR Evolving now: the AGI God.
Plasticity may play a key role in evolution.
Instead of mutating first and adapting later, animals often adapt
first and mutate later.
A physical feature that began as a
plastic response to an environmental trigger can become a hereditary
feature. Plastic changes occur because an environmental trigger
affects a developmental pathway in some way. Random mutations can
have similar effects. So in an environment in which a particular
plastic response is crucial for survival, only mutations that allow
or reinforce this response can spread. The altered developmental
pathway becomes a permanent hereditary feature.
can determine which mutations spread. Genetic assimilation does not
overturn any fundamental principles of evolution.
2015 January 19
It seems likely that we will one day build
machines that possess superhuman intelligence. A future artificial
general intelligence (AGI) will likely exceed human performance on
every task to which it is assigned.
A superhuman AGI that
behaved exactly as intended would quickly free us from doing most
intellectual work. Absent a willingness to immediately put this new
capital at the service of all humanity, a few of us would enjoy
unimaginable wealth, and the rest would be free to starve. Even in
the presence of a truly benign AGI, we could find ourselves slipping
back to a state of nature, policed by drones.
Chaos seems a
probable outcome even in the case where the AGI remained perfectly
obedient. But the control problem appears quite difficult to solve.
Imagine that we build a computer that is no more intelligent than
the average team of researchers but runs a million times faster than
the minds that built it. What are the chances that such an entity
would remain content to take direction from us?
The fact that
we seem to be hastening toward some sort of digital apocalypse poses
ethical challenges. To have any hope that a superintelligent AGI
would have values commensurate with our own, we would have to
instill those values in it. But whose values should count?
The moment of truth: Picture ten young men in a room — several of
them with undiagnosed Asperger's — drinking Red Bull and wondering
whether to flip a switch. Should any single company or research
group be able to decide the fate of humanity?
And yet the
only thing nearly as scary as building an AGI is the prospect of not
building one. We seem to be in the process of building a God.
Billionaires and politicians gather in
Switzerland this week for the World Economic Forum in Davos. The
charity Oxfam at the gathering will demand action to narrow the gap
between rich and poor. Oxfam finds that on current trends the
richest 1% will own more than 50% of the world's wealth by 2016.
2015 January 18
The British army spent 8 years in Afghanistan.
It was a military and political catastrophe. British troops were
responsible for the deaths of at least 500 Afghan civilians and the
injury of thousands more. From 2001, 453 British forces personnel
were killed in Afghanistan and more than 2600 wounded. The British
operation cost around £40 billion.
Tony Blair was responsible
for the decision to send the army to Helmand in 2006. Senior
American officers in Iraq had become weary of British boasting. The
British high command realized that their American patrons considered
them to have been beaten in Iraq. They decided this disaster made it
even more important to persevere in Afghanistan.
of their arrival, British troops were fighting for their lives. The
initial headline deployment was 3500 British troops. The number of
men trained to go out on patrol with weapons was about 700. The
soldiers were mostly exultant at having survived their battle
initiation. The officers were wary and diplomatic. The corporals and
sergeants understood quickly that the people attacking them were
locals and that the British army was being forced on the defensive.
In 2008 almost half of all attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan
were in Helmand. Eventually the Americans sent in the Marines,
bailing Britain out a second time. This left British troops
effectively subordinate to US plans. The Americans were keen to
implement an aggressive surge in Afghanistan. The British were
obliged to go along with it.
The British were hated in
Helmand. The British army had a history of invading Afghanistan and
the reaction to the British arrival was astonishment. The British
were fighting local men led by local barons. The Taliban provided
money, via their sponsors in the Gulf, and ideas the barons could
franchise. The British and Americans got played.
Friedrich Nietzsche saw Western civilization
moving in the direction of the Last Man, an apathetic creature with
no great passion or commitment. We are the Last Men, immersed in
stupid daily pleasures, while the Muslim radicals are ready to risk
everything, engaged in struggle up to self-destruction.
passionate intensity of the terrorists bears witness to a lack of
true conviction. A belief is fragile if it is threatened by a stupid
caricature in a weekly satirical newspaper. The problem with
fundamentalists is not that we consider them inferior to us, but
rather that they themselves secretly consider themselves inferior.
The rise of radical Islamism is exactly correlative to the
disappearance of the secular Left in Muslim countries. Liberalism is
not strong enough to save its core values against the fundamentalist
onslaught. Fundamentalism is a reaction against a real flaw of
liberalism. The only thing that can save its core values is a
Max Horkheimer said about fascism and
capitalism that those who do not want to talk critically about
capitalism should also keep quiet about fascism. Today those who do
not want to talk critically about liberal democracy should also keep
quiet about religious fundamentalism.
2015 January 15
David Cameron and Barack Obama
Progress and prosperity
are never guaranteed. As we meet today at the White House, we
reaffirm our belief that our ability to defend our freedoms is
rooted in our economic strength and the values that we cherish —
freedom of expression, the rule of law and strong democratic
We need strong and determined leadership to meet the challenges
of our time:
1 We must do all we
can to bolster our economies against another global economic
2 We will continue to stand
together against those who threaten our values and our way of life.
3 We will continue to stand up to
Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine.
European extremists are getting a boost
from the French tragedy. Most Europeans like mobility and migration
within the European Union but dislike immigration from outside the
EU. Most view Islam as incompatible with the Western world and many
see Islam as a threat.
Populist and extreme right parties are
tapping these sentiments:
• Nigel Farage of UKIP blames a
"fifth column" in Europe.
• Geert Wilders of the Freedom
Party says it is time to "de-Islamize" the Netherlands.
• Marine Le Pen of the Front
National says the time is up for denial and hypocrisy.
• Alexander Gauland of the AfD sees
proof it was wrong to ignore the Islamist threat.
pressure on Europeans:
• European Muslims are at risk of
being marginalized in European societies.
• European politicians will push to
restrict immigration and increase security.
• Fortress Europe will become even
more of a reality.
Köln, Mittwochabend: Einer Demonstration von
150 "Kölnern gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes" (Kögida)
standen laut Angaben der Polizei 6500 Gegendemonstranten gegenüber.
Unter die wenigen Kögida-Anhänger hätten sich auch Hogesa-Anhänger
("Hooligans gegen Salafisten") gemischt.
2015 January 14
Wagner and the Jews
The Wagner question concerns the morality of art and of music.
Wagner understood that a myth is also a vehicle of deeper truths. To
Wagner, the Gesamtkunstwerk is a drama of collective salvation.
The God of the Jews, Wagner wrote in Religion and Art, is doomed
by art. Art is the true creation, before which His false one pales.
The end of salvation is to become music, to dissolve into pure
sound, all life's dissonances resolving into the absolute.
2015 January 11
In her New Year address, Chancellor Angela
Merkel gave some motherly advice to German citizens, telling them to
stay away from rallies in Dresden organized by PEGIDA.
divided on immigration. A recent poll found that while most of its 4
million Muslims like democracy, half of all Germans view Islam as a
threat, 60% believe Islam is incompatible with modern life, and 1 in
4 would end Muslim immigration.
The poll found that older
people feel more threatened than younger ones, and that Islamophobia
is greatest where there are the fewest Muslims. In Saxony, where
PEGIDA was born and less than 1 in 1000 is Muslim, 70% feel
Alternative for Germany, AfD, founded in 2013,
opposes the euro and criticizes Merkel for moving too far to the
center. The AfD caucus in Saxony is talking with PEGIDA.
AR European opinion is mobilizing
All communities can do more to help deal with
terrorists. But there is a special burden on
because whether we like it or not these terrorists call themselves
They try to take a great peaceful religion and warp it for
their own means. To say that this has got
nothing to do with Islam
and Muslims would be wrong. These people are taking a peaceful
a billion people around the world and using it as their
tool to carry out their horrible activities.
Photo: Tim Woodcock
2015 January 11
Germany: A Force For Good
Chancellor Merkel arrived in London last week
as the leader of Europe's most successful liberal democracy. Germany
is quietly attempting to anchor Europe in the same successful
combination of liberal democracy, social solidarity, and productive
capitalism that it enjoys. Germany is not living in the past like
today's Britain, hankering to restore lost certainties.
MacGregor says Germany can only face its historical crimes,
genocide, and millions of war dead with a resolve to never again
make the same mistakes. Germany is now freed of imprisoning and
destructive myths. It has become a force for good, too little
recognized in Britain because we still define ourselves as a victor
over Germany when it was evil.
For Germany, the nation state
has been an interlude between the Holy Roman Empire and the European
Union. The union is the only way to conceive of the future and
create a peaceful and productive Europe. Senior German officials
talk privately in these terms, categories that bewilder the British
still locked in fundamentally traditional political categories.
Germans want to see the atrocities in Paris as the acts of a
murderous cult fueled by marginalization rather than join in any
putative clash of civilizations. They would love Britain to recall
that at different times it has fought alongside Germans, to drop its
fixation with old wars and make common cause to build a great
future. Europe could be so much stronger.
2015 January 10
Now is a trick of the mind. We experience a
succession of nows as time passing. Neuroscientists and
psychologists say now lasts on average between 2 and 3 seconds. This
is the window within which the brain fuses experience into a
psychological present. The property of flow emerges from a hierarchy
A functional moment is the timescale at which a
person can distinguish one event from another. This varies for
different senses. The auditory system can distinguish two sounds 2
ms apart, whereas the visual system requires much longer. For the
brain to detect the order of stimuli, two events must be at least 50
ms apart. Even if the asynchrony between audio and visual streams is
up to 200 ms, the brain can adjust the signals to synchronize them.
Our brains integrate stimuli into a cohesive whole within a
window of up to 2.5 s. This is the subjective present. Our sense of
now is a psychological illusion based on the past and a predicted
future. We combine the experienced moments to feel a sense of
continuity. This mental presence underpins the sense of self.
AR This was the key theme in
13 of my 2009 book
2015 January 9
Marine Le Pen
Islamists have declared war on France. The
Charlie Hebdo shooting was a terrorist attack carried out in the
name of radical Islam.
Them and Us
The Charlie Hebdo tragedy is not reducible
to anything as simple as two cultures clashing over the sanctity of
a prophet. Which is not to say that this has nothing to do with
religion. There is far too much cowardice and equivocation when it
comes to such issues. But to engage in war talk is to give in to the
reductionism demanded by terrorists.
Islam means submission to the commands of
Allah. Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of
expression. Their speech and actions are determined by divine
revelation. Muslims consider the honor of the Prophet Muhammad to be
dearer to them than that of their parents or even themselves. To
defend it is an obligation. The Messenger Muhammad: "Whoever insults
a Prophet kill him."
France: Islam Threat
The number of Muslims in France is up to 6
million, about 10% of the population. But 70% of the inmates of
French prisons are Muslims. A recent poll found that 43% of the
French see Islam as a threat to the French national identity. Nearly
70% say Muslims have failed to integrate into French society.
2015 January 8
Fossil Fuel Folly
Nature study reveals the geopolitical and economic implications
of tackling global warming for countries and companies that rely on
fossil fuel wealth. Trillions of dollars of known and extractable
coal, oil and gas cannot be exploited if the global temperature rise
is to be kept under the internationally agreed 2C safety limit.
Currently, the world is heading for a catastrophic 5C of warming.
Deadline to seal a global climate deal; December, UN summit,
We must go nuclear.
The Case for Mocking Religion
Christopher Hitchens (2006)
Islam makes very large claims
for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing
the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet is
apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in
some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good
Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right
to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning
and proof of an aggressive intent.
On the question of
1 Suppose that we
all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the
believers. How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough
precautions? Those who are determined to be offended will discover a
provocation somewhere. We cannot possibly adjust enough to please
the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.
2 Can the discussion be carried on
without the threat of violence, or the automatic resort to it? There
can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail
and assassination. And civil society means that free expression
trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be
Agnès Poirier (2007)
Charlie Hebdo is being sued for
racism by the Paris Grand Mosque, the Union of Islamic Organizations
of France, and the World Islamic League.
We have to stop
mistaking healthy criticism of religion for racism.
Deadly Mutation in the Heart of Islam
Salman Rushdie (2015)
Religion deserves our fearless
Europe in Decline
Arthur C. Brooks
Europe's core problems are demographic,
not economic. Nearly 1 in 5 Western Europeans was 65 years old or
older in 2014. By 2030, this will have risen to 1 in 4. The last
time the countries of the European Union were reproducing at
replacement levels was some 40 years ago. In 2014, the average
number of children per woman was about 1.6.
Europe needs visionary
leaders and a social movement to rediscover that people are assets,
US Military Aircraft
Approximate unit costs
|F-35 Lightning II
2015 January 7
Planet Kepler 438b is
• 470 light years away
• Slightly larger than Earth
• Orbiting an orange dwarf star
• In the Goldilocks zone where the
temperature is right for water and life.
announced the discovery at
2015 January 6
My atheism came to seem unsustainable.
I tried to put myself in the place of a Muslim, and I realized that
they are in a schizophrenic situation. Their big issues are societal
issues. On these issues they are very far from the left. And one
doesn't see why they'd vote for the right.
I think there is
a real need for God. The return of religion is a reality.
Researchers say we are witnessing a progressive secularization of
Islam, and that violence and radicalism should be understood as the
death throes of Islamism. This is not what I have observed.
For people to convert is a sign of hope, not a threat. On the level
of values, Muslims have more in common with the extreme right than
with the left. There is a more fundamental opposition between a
Muslim and an atheist than between a Muslim and a Catholic.
would maintain that an alliance between Catholics and Muslims is
possible. The Koran turns out to be much better than I thought. The
jihadists are bad Muslims. A holy war of aggression is not generally
sanctioned. Prayer alone is valid.
2015 January 5
The components of instability that we face
with Daesh are found widely in the region. It's not just about
Daesh, Iraq or Syria. There are social difficulties, economic
difficulties, governance challenges that created opportunities for
extremism to emerge and the radicalization of populations.
We want to deny
Daesh safe havens either in Iraq or in Syria, to preclude its
capacity to organize an existential threat to those countries. The
frontline states of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon also need assistance.
We need not only to expose Daesh for the darkness that it is, but
also to celebrate the values within countries that help defeat its
2015 January 4
Time and the Universe
Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin
1 Time is real and therefore
there are no unchanging physical laws
There is only one universe
Mathematics is of strictly limited use in explaining the cosmos
The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time is about the way
we live now and the world view we have been sold as scientific.
Unger and Smolin urge natural philosophy as a form of investigation
in which all is tested against nature and in which history, the
account of the cosmos in real time, becomes the queen of the
sciences. They say science is about what can be conclusively
established on the basis of rational argument from public evidence.
Neither the multiverse nor the block universe qualifies and neither
does the beginning of time.
1 Dam the Straits of Gibraltar and
lower the Mediterranean Sea level
Build a water pipeline from the Amazon River to the Sahara Desert
3 Flood the Qattara Depression in NW
Egypt with seawater
4 Join NE Siberia
with Alaska by bridging the Bering Straits
Dam the Indian Ocean exits of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea
6 Create an isthmus over Adam's Bridge
linking Sri Lank and India
7 Sink the
Isthmus of Panama to relink the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans
2015 January 3
The US National Security Agency (NSA) and the
UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have conducted an
international dragnet surveillance program of unprecedented scope.
Digital technology has radically reduced the practical obstacles
that we used to rely on to protect our rights. The government can
simply go to the various electronic communications service providers
you use and obtain from them detailed information on your every
phone call, Web search, e-mail, online chat, or credit card
purchase, as well as your physical location whenever you are
carrying your cell phone. Under current law, you have no
constitutional right to object to the government obtaining the
information from the companies that serve you. The government can
obtain a detailed, intimate portrait of anyone at low cost, without
any basis for suspicion.
Disclosures about NSA spying have
changed the actions of Silicon Valley corporations. Their business
interests have been hurt, so they are now behind privacy reforms —
hope for the future.
2015 is the centenary of general
relativity. In 1915, Albert Einstein published a set of equations
that changed our understanding of the universe. Out went the
Newtonian notion of gravity as a force between massive objects, in
came the idea that gravity is an effect of the fact that massive
objects curve spacetime.
Einstein's general theory of
relativity is built upon ten coupled hyperbolic-elliptic nonlinear
partial differential equations that take many pages to write down.
The equations predict that cataclysmic cosmic events should send
ripples through spacetime, but we have yet to observe any. This year
will see the resumption of the Caltech gravitational wave experiment
the launch of the ESA spacecraft
2015 January 2
The US Military
The United States will spend more than $1
trillion on national security this year, about as much as the next
10 nations combined. Americans have the best-equipped fighting force
in history, yet it is repeatedly defeated by less modern, poorly
equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles
only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war.
cost of post-9/11 wars in and around Iraq and Afghanistan:
Martin F-35 Lightning II
The F-35 was designed for
the Air Force, the Navy, the Marine Corps, and US allies worldwide.
It was to be strong enough for Navy carrier landings, light and
maneuverable as an Air Force dogfighter, and able to take off and
land like a helicopter for the Marines. It is years behind schedule
and billions over budget.
Estimated total F-35 program costs:
2015 New Year's Day
In 1687, Isaac Newton published his law of
universal gravitation. It paved the way to a rational scientific
understanding of nature based on precise mathematical laws.
One of the great tests of Newtonian gravitation was Edmond Halley's
prediction about a comet. Halley realised one comet was a repeat
visitor, with an elliptical orbit that took it near the Earth every
76 years. His prediction of its next return in 1758 proved correct.
In 2004 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Rosetta
probe to visit Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. On 12 November 2014
a small capsule, Philae, landed on the comet. Rosetta performed a
carefully choreographed cosmic dance, tugged by the combined
gravitational forces of the sun, the Earth, Mars and other bodies.
Its route was designed for fuel efficiency and took ten years. Each
close fly-by with Earth and Mars gave the probe a free boost,
governed by Newton's law of gravity.
The early solar system
was very different from the sedate one we see today. The planets
formed by a chaotic process of accretion. The giants were closer
together and millions of planetesimals roamed the outer regions.
Jupiter and Saturn wandered into a resonance that pushed Neptune and
Uranus outwards, with Neptune overtaking Uranus. The disturbed
planetesimals fell toward the Sun. Chaos erupted in the solar system
as planetesimals played celestial pinball among the planets. Some
planetesimals went into long, thin orbits as comets.
theories are supported by huge computer calculations of solar system
dynamics. Mathematics has illuminated many other cosmic puzzles.
ISS view over Syria
and Israel to Egypt, 2014-12-25
I watched the ISS fly over my garden at
on Christmas Eve
"One of the great
legacies of our culture is that we have a supremely great poet who
keeps reminding us how words make us who we are. This means that
having good words around us — an imaginative context that feeds us —
is not a luxury but a necessity of life."
THE MARS SOCIETY
Angela Merkel is named
The Times Person of the Year
control of western
talks with Vladimir Putin.
was a Venus weather satellite. Now it is
out of gas. Next month it will slip out of orbit and burn out in a
fireball. Because Venus has no magnetic field, the solar wind slams
into the atmosphere and engulfs the planet in huge explosions. Venus
is really sensitive to space weather.
2014 December 31
The anti-Islamization movement PEGIDA
(Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident) is
causing controversy in Germany. The movement has swelled from a few
hundred last October in Dresden to the thousands the Monday meetings
attract now in cities around Germany. Its supporters feel that
mainstream politicians have not articulated popular concerns about
immigration, and notably immigration from outside Europe.
Most immigrants to Germany are from other parts of Europe, and are
mostly secular or Christian. The largest group of Muslim migrants
has been the Turks, who were formerly guest workers. But events in
Iraq, Syria, and the Arab world have added to the numbers coming to
Germany. The numbers seeking asylum in Germany, many of them Muslim,
were over 77,000 for the first six months of this year, and have
grown since. In all, 16 million people living in Germany came from
abroad. In 2013, the number of arrivals was 1.2 million, of whom 1.1
million were non-Germans.
The German question underlying
concerns about Islam is what constitutes the state or the nation.
The immigration has happened by default, not by explicit consent.
The Alternative for Deutschland party has failed to make more
headway because of the overwhelming popularity of Angela Merkel, the
mother of the nation, but German politics will change soon enough.
Disquiet over the changing nature of Germany will continue to show
2014 December 30
The UK government needs to shore up its
maritime patrol capability. When the government scrapped the Nimrod
maritime patrol aircraft in 2010, it left the UK dangerously
Nimrod MRA4 had cost £3.8 billion to develop but was never
Conservative MP Julian Lewis: "The Russian navy is
known to be developing the most advanced underwater technologies,
and are procuring new, more stealthy submarines."
Conservative MP James Gray: "Nimrod and similar aircraft are not the
only way for the UK to maintain a coastal patrol capability. It is
also possible to use satellites or other capabilities and
technologies owned by our European allies."
The US Navy flies
P-8 Poseidon aircraft. Boeing sees the UK as a prime market for
Poseidon. The UK government says a decision will be taken after the
2015 general election.
2014 December 29
Life In Space
The International Space Station (ISS) is
big. It has the length and width of a football field, weighs as much
as a fully loaded jumbo jet, and has more interior volume than a
jumbo. It soars into a fresh sunrise every 92 minutes.
ISS is half American, half Russian. Each nation manages its own side
of the craft. The US side includes modules or equipment from Canada,
Japan, and Europe, and typically a visiting astronaut from one of
those places. The role of station commander alternates between a
cosmonaut and an astronaut. A total of 216 people have lived there.
Astronaut workdays are scripted by the people on the ground.
Every minute of an astronaut workday is mapped out in blocks devoted
to specific tasks. A click on a time block expands it to present all
the steps necessary to perform the task at hand. Most of the workday
is devoted merely to maintaining the station, handling logistics,
and staying healthy.
American astronaut Mike Fincke has
served 3 missions, 381 days, with 9 space walks totaling 48 hours,
at the ISS: "A little push with your big toe will take you halfway
across the station. It's like being Superman."
2014 December 28
Life Is Quantum
Erwin Schrödinger proposed that life
inhabits a border zone between quantum and classical worlds. Genes
are too small for the accuracy of their copying to depend on the
classical emergence of order from disorder, so he guessed that genes
involve aperiodic crystals mutating via quantum jumps and that life
reflects a quantum order.
A decade later, Watson and Crick
unveiled the double helix. Molecular biology remained largely wedded
to the concepts of classical physics, but recent experiments
indicate that some life processes depend on quantum weirdness.
The sense of smell seems to work because odor molecules fit odor
receptors like keys in a lock. The receptors respond to molecular
vibrations that might promote quantum tunneling of electrons to open
Some birds navigate using the Earth's magnetic
field. A robin's compass depends on light and detects the angle of
magnetic field lines relative to the Earth's surface. It seems the
bird uses photon entanglement to do so.
Enzymes speed up
chemical reactions. They might work using quantum tunneling by
letting electrons and protons jump from one position in a
biochemical process to another via quantum teleportation.
Photosynthesis uses light to assemble living matter. Chlorophyll
molecules turn light energy into electrical energy, which turns
carbon dioxide into plant matter in a reaction center. Somehow,
nearly all the photon energy reaches the reaction center.
Apparently, instead of going one way through the system, the photons
use quantum coherence to go all ways at once.
could involve quantum jumps as nucleotide bases switch between
alternative structures by quantum tunneling. In 1999, Jim Al-Khalili
and I suggested that proton tunneling might account for adaptive
mutation, which appears to occur more frequently when it provides an
In 1998, my colleague Johnjoe McFadden
wanted to explain adaptive mutations. Mainstream evolutionary theory
holds that mutagenesis occurs randomly. Johnjoe proposed that
quantum tunneling of protons in hydrogen bonds in DNA might play a
We ended up publishing a speculative paper on adaptive
mutations. A new field of research bringing together quantum
physics, organic chemistry, and molecular biology has burst into
Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum
Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden
AR I was most impressed by McFadden's 2002 sketch of an
electromagnetic theory of consciousness (since it so resembled my
own photonic theory: see my 2009 book
citations therein). I met Johnjoe at
in Prague and we enjoyed good talks both there and later in
London. We considered a collaboration, with me as a quantum expert
to complement his biology, but of course he was better off with Jim
TV series on quantum physics confirmed his expertise).
2014 December 27
The Apollo moon landing triggered all
kinds of technological innovations and solutions that then had
commercial applications. Apollo needed small computers for its trip
and NASA bought integrated circuits, helping the computer revolution
GPS technology was originally developed by the US
military. After the Cold War ended, the Clinton administration
opened up the technology to commercial applications.
mapping of the human genome attracted $3.8 billion of federal
funding from 1990 to 2003. Its impact on the economy from 1988 to
2010 was estimated by Battelle at almost $800 billion.
United States has dominated the world of basic science for decades,
but its share of global research and development is falling. China
is on course to surpass the United States in the percentage of its
GDP it spends on R&D in just a few years.
Reagan, 1988: "The
remarkable thing is that although basic research does not begin with
a particular practical goal, when you look at the results over the
years, it ends up being one of the most practical things government
does. This is why I've urged Congress to devote more money to
research. It is an indispensable investment in America's future."
The US $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike
Fighter is set to replace almost every type of fighter in the US Air
Force, Navy, and Marine Corps inventory. But its Electro-Optical
Targeting System (EOTS) is obsolete. Older US jets carry new sensor
pods that are far more advanced. The new pods display clearer HD
video in both in the IR and optical spectrum, can beam full-motion
video feeds to ground troops, and can mark targets with an IR laser
beam to coordinate attacks.
The F-35 EOTS was seen as a
replacement for targeting pods to preserve stealth. But stealth
forced compromises that hinder upgrades. The EOTS camera does not
have the range or HR capability found on the targeting pods now
carried by US fighters in action. And it is unable to send live
video to ground troops. The IR pointer in current aircraft lets the
pilot highlight a target. The ground controller can sees its sparkle
and confirm the target. Its absence in the F-35 is a problem.
This is the Age of the Brain. The US BRAIN
Initiative, the EU Human Brain Project, and the Japanese Brain/MINDS
initiative will explore how the brain does things. But consciousness
and brain activity have a somatic element. Emotions are not so much
states of the brain as mental representations of states of the body.
The big brain projects are data-gathering exercises. We lack an
understanding of how patterns of neural connectivity and interaction
lead to thoughts, emotions, creativity and imagination, psychosis
and joy. Collecting vast amounts of data without any notion of what
you want to ask of it has never been a good way to do science.
2014 Boxing Day
Humans are altering the Earth system at every
scale, up to and including the global climate. Going forward, how
will human ingenuity handle a warming world? Doomsday predictions of
more droughts, fires, floods, and economic disaster are familiar,
but our species is innovative and adaptive. What opportunities does
global climate change present for making our societies more
equitable, prosperous, and resilient in the long run?
Future Tense — a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona
State University — will discuss these issues at the New America
offices in Washington DC.
2014 Christmas Day
Jesus: Muslim Prophet
Jesus, or Isa, as he is known in Arabic, is
deemed by Islam to be a Muslim prophet rather than the Son of God,
or God incarnate. He is referred to by name in 25 different verses
of the Quran. Among the prophets recognised by Islam, Jesus is
second only to Muhammad.
According to Islamic theology,
Christ introduced a new way based on the love of God. Sufi
philosopher al-Ghazali described Jesus as the prophet of the soul
and Sufi master Ibn Arabi called him the seal of saints.
Muslims see the virgin birth as evidence of Jesus' unique importance
as a prophet and a messiah. They reject the Trinity, the
crucifixion, and the resurrection. They believe that Jesus was
raised bodily to heaven by God. Muslims claim their Jesus is the
historical Jesus, as he might have been without St Paul or St
Augustine or the Council of Nicaea.
A.N. Wilson: "Islam is a
moral and intellectual acknowledgement of the lordship of God
without the encumbrance of Christian mythological baggage ...
Christianity will decline ... and the religious hunger of the human
heart will be answered by the Crescent, not the Cross."
2014 Christmas Eve
Peace On Earth
Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack
In most of the world, the
homicide rate is sinking. Among the 88 countries with reliable data,
67 have seen a decline in the past 15 years. The global rate appears
to be down from 71 homicides per million people in 2003 to 62 in
Rates of rape and violence against women have been
sinking in America for decades, and are now a quarter or less of
their peaks in the past. Many countries are working to reduce such
crimes. Children too are safer than in the past.
other mass killing of noncombatant civilians has dropped by about
three orders of magnitude since the decade after World War II, and
by four orders of magnitude since the war itself.
of interstate wars has plummeted since 1945. In 7 of the 11 wars
that flared since 2010, radical Islamist groups were one side in the
struggle. The world is not falling apart.
Fairy tales are gradually turning into
myths. They are just about the only stories we have in common with
which to think through deep dilemmas and to keep alive registers of
emotion and imagination otherwise being eroded. The fairy tale
carries a new burden of significance.
One way of understanding the fairy
tale is to see it as dramatizing the human confrontation with nature
and destiny. We never know when help is at hand. The conviction
underlying all this sort of storytelling is that the world is
irrationally generous as well as unfairly hurtful.
provide a framework for imagining our human situation overall. A
world of edges, shocks, and possible help or danger from outside may
be the mythology we need.
Rowan speaks as a Christian watching Islam.
Crewed mission to orbit
for 30 days
mission to airship
for 30 days
Crewed mission to
for 1 year
Floating cloud city
Friedrich L. Bauer
München Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Friedrich L. Bauer and I spent
years in the 1990s working on the English translation and update of
his modern classic on cryptology. Among other things, it presents
full mathematical details of the Enigma crypts and the methods used
in Turing's "bombes" to decrypt them.
"The best single book
2014 December 23
The planet Venus may be nicer than Mars.
It's nearer to us and closer in size and it has a density and
chemical composition more like Earth. Its surface also much hotter
than Earth, at over 700 K, with an atmospheric pressure over 92
times greater, huge volcanoes, and an acidic cloud layer. So the
surface is too hostile for humans. But living about 50 km above it
could be quite pleasant.
In a High Altitude Venus Operational Concept
(HAVOC), NASA scientists propose a city in the clouds, held aloft by
balloons like airships. A first mission would send a robot into the
Venusian atmosphere to check it out. Then a crewed mission would
orbit Venus for 30 days. The next mission would fly a crewed airship
for 30 days. Later missions would have a crew spend a year in an
airship. Eventually permanent colonists would live in a floating
At an altitude of 50 km, Venusian atmospheric
pressure is like that at sea level on Earth, and Venus has only
slightly lower gravity than Earth. The radiation level in the
Venusian atmosphere is about the same as in Canada. By contrast,
Mars has has a very thin atmosphere, low gravity, and high
radiation. The temperature at 50 km on Venus is 75°C, not too hot
for an airship cooled by power from sunlight some 40% brighter than on Earth.
Venus is often much closer to Earth than Mars
is. A crewed mission to Venus would take 440 days using
existing or planned rockets: 110 days out, 30 days there, and 300
days back, with the option to abort and fly back to Earth
immediately after arrival. Getting to Mars and back using the same
technology would involve at least 500 days in space and possibly up
to 900 days, with no abort option.
For the first crewed
missions, a helium-filled airship nearly 130 m long would be covered
on top with solar panels and have a gondola slung underneath for a
small habitat and an ascent vehicle for the return trip. The airship
would be sent in advance (folded up inside a spacecraft) and the
crew would dock with it from a transit vehicle in Venus orbit.
The airship would enter the Venusian atmosphere inside an
aeroshell at 7200 m/s. The aeroshell would decelerate to 450 m/s and
then deploy a parachute. The aeroshell would drop away and the
airship would unfurl and inflate until its lift and drag slowed it
down. It would then fully inflate and float in the wind. Equatorial
winds of about 100 m/s would carry it around the planet in 110
hours. The winds veer north, so to stay on course the airship would
use solar power to push south by day and drift north to conserve
power at night.
The crew would do science from inside a small
(21 cubic m) habitat based on the NASA Space Exploration Vehicle.
From the airship payload of 70 tons, nearly 60 tons is the ascent
vehicle, a winged rocket slung below the airship. To head home, the
crew would get into a capsule at the front of the rocket, drop from
the airship, and blast back into orbit. They would dock with their
transit vehicle, fly back to Earth orbit, and dock with a final
capsule for touchdown.
NASA could put a crewed mission to
Venus ahead of one to Mars.
Our use of fossil fuels is not sustainable.
We must act now to make the world safer and cleaner. We need to
adopt nuclear fission with thorium as reactor fuel and then to
develop fusion reactors.
Thorium nuclear power is not new.
Uranium was chosen instead of thorium because it can help make
nuclear weapons. Now the Indians and Chinese are investing in
thorium as a nuclear fuel.
Thorium is much more abundant than
uranium but is just as potent as fuel. Proposed reactor designs for
thorium feature passive safety and a much reduced waste disposal
problem. The reactors can recycle highly radioactive waste from
uranium power plants to leave no waste that requires 100,000 years
or more of storage. We have the expertise for thorium power. What we
need is political will.
Fusion is clean and safe. A first
generation of fusion reactors would burn lithium to provide power
for thousands of years and the second generation would burn
deuterium. G2 fusion reactors would have enough fuel to last until
the end of mankind.
The UK must take the lead in research and
development. Renewable sources will never provide base load. Only
nuclear can do that. We must show faith in our scientists. Seize the
2014 December 22
Juergen Todenhoefer traveled deep into
the caliphate and visited Mosul. Islamic State
fighter: "We hit
their front lines hard, also using suicide attacks. Then the others
fled very quickly. We fight for Allah, they fight for money and
other things that they do not really believe in."
Todenhoefer: "When we stayed at their recruitment house, there were
50 new fighters who came every day. And I just could not believe the
glow in their eyes. They felt like they were coming to a promised
land, like they were fighting for the right thing. ... I think the
Islamic State is a lot more dangerous than Western leaders realize.
They believe in what they are fighting for and are preparing the
largest religious cleansing campaign the world has ever seen."
British computer science pioneer Alan
Turing made an enormous contribution to Allied victory in the second
world war. Anyone trying to turn his story into a movie must either
embrace the richness of Turing as a character, and trust the
audience to follow, or simply capitulate by reducing him to a
caricature of the tortured genius.
The Imitation Game takes
the latter path. Director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham
Moore are determined to suggest maximum dramatic tension between
their tragic outsider and a blinkered society. This not only fatally
miscasts Turing as a character, it also completely destroys any
coherent telling of what he and his colleagues were trying to do.
In reality, Turing was an entirely willing participant in a
collective enterprise that featured a host of other outstanding
intellects. Three Polish experts had already spent years figuring
out how to attack the German Enigma cipher machine and provided the
template for the machines Turing later created. Turing and his
colleagues were encouraged in their work by a military leadership
that had a pretty sound understanding of cryptological principles
and operational security.
In the movie version of events,
Turing and his small group spend the first two years of the war in
fruitless isolation, and only in 1941 does his crazy machine finally
show any results. This is a highly stylized version of the epic
struggle to crack the German navy cipher. In fact, Turing's "bombes"
were helping to decipher German army and air force codes from early
on. The movie presents a bizarre departure from the historical
The film also ladles in extra doses of intrigue where
none existed. Even if you believe that Turing was driven to his
death, the movie treatment of his fate borders on the ridiculous.
There is no basis for any of this in the historical record. Bad
faith underlies the whole enterprise.
2014 Winter Solstice
Elf On The Shelf
The Elf on
the Shelf is a scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa
Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. The doll comes with a
Laura Pinto and Selena Nemorin say this is a capillary form of
power that normalizes the voluntary surrender of privacy, teaching
young people to blindly accept panoptic surveillance and reify
When children enter the play world of The
Elf on the Shelf, they may not touch the doll and they must accept
that the doll watches them at all times with the purpose of
reporting to Santa Claus. They are taught to accept or even seek out
external observation of their actions outside of their caregivers
and familial structures.
The Elf on the Shelf contributes to the shaping of children as
pack for a Jesus doll that reports to God.
Good As Gold
ruled the world, I would rewrite the economics textbooks. This would
be a big step toward a better civic life. Today, we often confuse
market reasoning for moral reasoning. We fall into thinking that
economic efficiency defines the common good. But this is a mistake.
Economics presents itself as a value-neutral science of human
behavior. Increasingly, we accept this way of thinking and apply it
to all manner of public policies and social relations. But the
economistic view of the world makes for an impoverished public
discourse, and a managerial, technocratic politics.
reconnect economics with its origins in moral and political
philosophy. Consider the growing use of cash incentives to solve
social problems. The NHS is experimenting with cash rewards to
people for losing weight, quitting smoking, or taking medications. I
would ask whether the cash incentive might drive out attitudes worth
Market reasoning must answer to moral
Collecting for the Mayor's
Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes
The Sunday Times
Hundreds of British troops from the Parachute Regiment
and the Royal Armoured Corps will deploy to Iraq in early 2015. A
fleet of Foxhound, Ridgeback and Mastiff vehicles is being prepared
in Dubai, where they are stored after airlift from
My New Zealand nephew
Commander John Sellwood won the top award for the Advanced
Command and Staff Course
Top: Mount Sharp,
Bottom: As the
crater once was?
2014 December 20
Juden hinter Muslime
Die Pegida-Bewegung stellt sich gegen eine
angebliche Islamisierung in Deutschland. Nun stellt sich der
Zentralrat der Juden hinter die Muslime.
Zentralratsvorsitzende Josef Schuster: "Wir dürfen die Pegida-Leute
auf keinen Fall unterschätzen. Die Bewegung ist brandgefährlich."
2014 December 19
With the Mayor of Poole,
Borough of Poole Councillors, the MP for Poole, and others
Royal Motor Yacht
A man not preoccupied with the excellence of
his dinner should be suspected of inaccuracy in other things.
Vali R. Nasr
The Mideast is in turmoil. Islamic State is
carving out a new Sunni realm in Iraq and Syria. Arab governments
tremble at popular demands for change. America needs Sunni partners
and Shiite partners, and President Obama has suggested that the
United States and Iran should collaborate against Islamic State, but
a resolution of the nuclear standoff is necessary for broader
strategic cooperation to develop. An investment in grand strategy
would be the surest way for America to free itself of Mideast
2014 December 18
Methane On Mars
NASA says Curiosity has detected methane at
about 1 part per billion in the Martian atmosphere. Life might be
the source. On Earth, animals burp or fart methane as a waste gas.
On Mars, underground microbes could be putting out the gas.
Other processes can make methane. Rocks bearing olivine on Mars can
react with water to produce methane. Subsurface clathrates can
release it in bursts over time. And it can be made in reactions
between cosmic dust and UV sunlight.
NASA is planning a Mars
2020 mission as part of a campaign to bring back Martian rock
samples. A joint European-Russian mission will launch the ExoMars
rover and a Mars trace gas orbiter in 2018 with the goal of looking
2014 December 17
Hundreds of schools in Turkey are caught up in
an education overhaul that threatens to roll back the country's
secular foundation. The Justice and Development Party (AKP)
government led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says it is responding to
demand, but parents and teachers from affected schools say that the
conversions are being pushed through against their wishes.
The government plans to build mosques in 80 different state
universities and to convert one Istanbul university into a center
for Islamic learning. Almost a million pupils are enrolled in
imam-hatip religious schools, in which around a quarter of class
hours are dedicated to Sunni Islamic study. Parents and teachers say
administrators are restricting optional classes so pupils are forced
to take religious ones.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk established the
Republic of Turkey on the ruins of the Ottoman empire in 1923. Over
15 years, he set about rooting out the influence of Islam from
Turkish society. He banned sharia courts, closed all madrasas, shut
down private Islamic orders, and banished religious education from
state schools. Turbans and the fez were banned, and the hijab was
outlawed in public offices. Atatürk abolished the caliphate.
Since Atatürk's death in 1938, resistance to his reforms within
Turkey has steadily eroded them. Some even contend that the entire
Republican project was a mistake. The present government's religious
agenda could expose Turkey to the turmoil roiling Iraq and Syria.
Across what was Nineveh, Iraqi Christians
spent this year fleeing from village to village, hoping to find
safety somewhere. Now in Acton, London, a beleaguered congregation
of Iraqi Christians sing hymns in Syriac, hear sermons in Arabic, and
pray for the dead in Aramaic.
Everybody in this London
congregation has a story. They tell of Muslim neighbors stealing
their houses. Some of their relatives were taken to the mosques and
forcibly converted to Islam. Others were martyred. A woman: "It is
2014 December 16
PEGIDA - Patriotische Europäer gegen die
Islamisierung des Abendlandes - bringt immer mehr Bürger auf die
Straße. An diesem Montagabend sind in Dresden 15.000 Menschen
gekommen, so viele wie noch nie. PEGIDA vereint sie alle: die
Frustrierten, die Ängstlichen, die Wütenden.
Zuwanderungsschwemme, irgendwann ist mal Schluss", wie ein
48-Jähriger ruft. Gegen die "Wirtschaftsflüchtlinge, die sich in der
sozialen Hängematte Deutschlands" ausruhen, wie es ein 51-Jähriger
ausdrückt. Gegen "die obere Klasse, die Politik, die sich
abschottet", wie ein etwa 60-Jähriger sagt.
Lutz Bachmann: "Wir sprechen nicht mit der Presse, dabei bleibt es.
Vorhin habe ich aber mit Al-Jazeera ein Interview gemacht."
German police have noted a significant rise in
far-right extremism and attacks targeting foreigners. The trend is
seen as a backlash against a sharp increase in refugees arriving in
Dresden has seen a rise in anti-Islam "Monday
marches" under the slogan PEGIDA, "Patriotic Europeans Against the
Islamization of the Occident", which drew over 10,000 people a week
A poll for Spiegel found a majority of Germans were open to some of the views voiced by PEGIDA. A third of those
polled believed Germany was undergoing a process of Islamization,
while two thirds said the German government was not taking current
record levels of immigration and asylum seekers seriously enough.
Germany has an estimated 4 million Muslims, in a total
population of about 80 million.
2014 December 15
UK prime minister David Cameron visited Poole today. He
spoke on the economy at Magna Academy and visited a housing
development in Hamworthy.
2014 December 14
The Russian Military
Russian conventional forces dwarf those
of its Eastern European and Central Asian neighbors. As part of
defense reforms, most Russian ground forces are to be
professionalized and reorganized, but for the foreseeable future
many will remain conscripts with limited training.
intent on remilitarizing its Arctic territory and is restoring its
airfields and ports to help protect hydrocarbon resources and
shipping lanes. But much military equipment remains decades old. The
Russian navy is little more than a coastal protection force. All of
its large vessels are holdovers from the Cold War.
air power is also limited. Most of the air force dates from the Cold
War, but modernization of air and space defenses is a top priority
of the rearmament program. A consolidated Aerospace Defense Command
will deploy a SAM system near Moscow and along the Russian border.
The Russian nuclear arsenal remains
on par with the United States. Moscow has about 1,500 strategic
warheads on deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles,
submarines, and heavy bombers. There are also believed to be some
2,000 nonstrategic nuclear warheads. Moscow appeared to lower its
nuclear threshold in 2000, permitting the use of such weapons in
response to major conventional attacks.
The Russian military
budget has more than doubled over the last decade, behind
only China and the United States. Russia is about halfway through a
$700 billion weapons modernization program.
acknowledge that there is now little threat of a large NATO land
invasion but they criticize the eastward expansion of the alliance.
NATO members need to prepare for Russian guerilla tactics and Baltic
governments should be wary of Russian subversion.
The American Middle
The stock market is soaring and US
unemployment is sinking. But all that growth has done nothing to
boost average pay. Real household median income is still lower than
it was when the recession ended.
The American middle class is
in trouble. Over the past 25 years, the economy has grown 83%, after
adjusting for inflation, but typical family income has stagnated.
Corporate profits have doubled as a share of the economy and workers
today produce nearly twice as many goods and services per hour on
the job as they did in 1989. Yet in 81% of US counties, the median
income is lower today than it was 15 years ago.
share of Americans enjoy the fruits of an expanding economy.
Republicans and Democrats keep promising to help the middle class
reclaim its prosperity, but to no avail.
2014 December 13
The Sexual Revolution
In the battle of ideas, some academics
once believed that sexual minorities could subvert the system. The
personal was political. The heterosexual penis and oppressive
patriarchy went hand in hand and led to rape, nuclear war, and
Today everyone wants to be like
boring white heterosexuals. Sexual outsiders have come in from the
margins and bought into the lifestyle of the Great White Males they
once despised. It is not the white male heterosexual who is facing a
crisis of identity, but members of the gay, lesbian, and transsexual
community. They have lost their transgressive edge.
heterosexual male can no longer expect everyone to conform to his
idea of sexuality or being normal. The sex war is over. We boring
white heterosexual males have won.
2014 December 12
Russians have created a society of
simulations, with fake elections, a fake free press, a fake free
market, and fake justice. They are led by religious Russian patriots
who curse the decadent West while keeping their children and money
in London. All cultures split the public and private selves, but in
Russia that split is often total.
As the Kremlin plays the
West, we see it extend the tactics it uses at home to foreign
affairs. At the core of this strategy is the idea that there is no
such thing as objective truth. The Kremlin replaces facts with
2014 December 11
The New York Times
President Obama is conducting the war
against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria under an outdated 2001
authorization, without explicit approval by Congress and without the
limitations that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has urged.
But there are too many red flags about the potential for mission
creep to ignore. Obama says he has all the authority he needs under
the 2001 authorization. Any action on his authorization must be
accompanied by a thorough debate about American policy toward the
Astronomers now estimate that our galaxy
contains at least as many planets as stars. Planets are normal and
the sun is an unremarkable star. Our solar system lives in a suburb
of the galaxy. Our Milky Way is just one of countless other
galaxies. Our collection of known planets contains ever more small
orbs that might have rocks and water, in a habitable zone where life
as we know it could exist.
Earthlings have made a huge
cultural shift, from wanting to be the center of the universe to
wanting not to be alone. What disturbs us now is to think Earth is
somehow special. Astronomers want to find a twin Earth. Otherwise we
might be alone, thrust back toward the philosophical center. The
discovery of Earth 2.0 will transform a numbingly cold universe back
into a cosmos we can connect with.
2014 December 10
Escape is not an option, at least not in a
time frame relevant to our current environmental predicament.
"It's a perfect planet," one of the astronauts says in
Interstellar, referring to spaceship Earth. "We're not going to
find another one like it."
Placards at climate marches:
"There Is No Planet B."
Gale Crater on Mars was once a large lake.
The Curiosity rover has found evidence of multiple cycles of water
flowing into a lake that could have lasted tens of millions of
years. The lake dried out and reappeared several times, laying down
the sediments that make up Mount Sharp.
conglomerate rocks full of pebbles that were probably deposited by
rivers. As it continued, the landscape changed to sandstones that
were all tilted toward the mountain.
scientist John Grotzinger: "If Mount Sharp had been there and water
had been flowing off Mount Sharp, it would be flowing downhill to
the north. But the rocks that are exposed show the water flowing to
Water flowed from the crater rim toward the
interior, filling up an ancient lake. At the base of the mountain,
sandstone layers become thinner and flatter, as if they were laid
down more slowly, without currents swirling them around. But how did
the Martian atmosphere stay wet enough to prevent the lake from
JPL deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada:
"The climate system must have been loaded with water. The question
is, could temporary climate fluctuations form what we see
geologically, or do we need longer term warm wet climate?"
2014 December 9
Rising inequality in the years after 1985 reduced UK
growth. The economy expanded by 40% during the 1990s and 2000s but
would have grown by almost 50% had inequality not risen. Reducing
income inequality could have increased growth over 25 years, with a
cumulated GDP gain of over 7%.
Governments should rejig tax
systems to make sure wealthier individuals pay their fair share.
Policymakers need to consider those at risk of failing to benefit
from the recovery and future growth. Countries that promote equal
opportunity for all from an early age will grow and prosper.
2014 December 8
City Loot Haven
The City of London is a haven for dishonest
officials from overseas to hide stolen money. Conservative MP
Stephen Barclay, who worked in senior anti-money-laundering roles at
the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and Barclays Bank, says a
long-awaited government anti-corruption plan does not address flaws
in the British financial system that allow crooked officials from
foreign countries to launder their loot in London banks. Barclay says UK government investigators do not have enough
time to carry out detailed checks on suspicious transactions in UK
SET for BRITAIN
SET for BRITAIN awards support and promote early-stage and
early-career research scientists, engineers, technologists, and
mathematicians in the UK.
2014 December 7
American capitalism is dedicated to the
cult of growth and expansion. The new boss is ever bigger, better,
and cooler than the old. The ideology of eternal improvement fits
pop sci-fi neatly. Technology advances and humans mutate into X-Men
without ever prompting a consideration of alternatives.
Science fiction is everywhere in popular culture. But it has largely
jettisoned the future. Star Wars is a fantasy in which tomorrow is
just a place to rearrange the robots on a Titanic that never sinks.
Progress has conquered the present so thoroughly it no longer even
needs to push forward.
Poole, 2014-12-06: Vishal Gupta, Cllr Carol Evans, Cllr Elaine Atkinson,
Robert Syms MP, me
2014 December 6
Christians make better humanists. Christmas
Christianity imagines God as a human infant.
not always been convincing humanists. In too many cases, religion
has stood over and against human flourishing. Denigrations of the
human should be an affront to Christian values.
human beings morally distinctive? Darwin was right but evolution
hardly encourages us to think of human beings as uniquely valuable.
Some may say because we are rational. But are rational people more
morally valuable than irrational ones? Surely not. No, it requires a
leap of faith.
Atheists are not always at the forefront of
defending human life when it comes up against other values such as
choice. If by humanism we mean that human being is morally superior to
all other categories, many of us find a more robust form of humanism
Angus Ritchie and Nick Spencer
Christians ought to be
proud of their humanist credentials, rather than seeing humanism as
a kind of atheism. Were it not for Christianity, the ideas of
humanism would not have developed in Europe.
faith provides a firmer foundation for humanist beliefs than
evolutionary atheism. A commitment to reliable rationality, to moral
realism, and to human dignity can only be secured on a theistic
basis. The price of humanism is philosophical rigor.
2014 December 5
The National Audit Office recently warned
that more than half of councils currently risk financial failure by
the end of the decade. The Local Government Association estimates
that the current £1.6 billion gap between adult social care demand
and available resources will rise to £4.3 billion by 2020. In town
and county halls there is talk of existential and financial crisis.
Orion Test Success
Orion is built to take humans deep into space. Orion will carry
a crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the
crew during the trip, and provide safe re-entry to Earth.
NASA launched Orion atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket on a successful
flight that tested many systems critical to safety, such as
avionics, attitude control, parachutes, and the heat shield.
In the future, Orion will launch on the Space Launch System. The SLS
will be capable of sending humans to deep space destinations such as
an asteroid and eventually Mars.
To curb the changing climate, we can:
Capture carbon from the air to form limestone.
2 Plant new growth forests to capture
carbon from the air.
3 Seed the
ocean with iron to feed microalgae that free oxygen from carbon
dioxide, then sink
into the depths,
sequestering the carbon.
the atmosphere with sulfate aerosols that absorb sunlight and cool
2014 December 4
Bet On Growth
UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
cut taxes for most homebuyers yesterday and bet on a growing economy
powered by rising property prices. Four years ago Britain had been
at the brink. Now it had "higher growth, lower unemployment, falling
inflation, and a deficit that is falling too".
To me, someone is secular if hen does not:
1 hold any supernatural beliefs about
deities, spirits, or netherworlds
engage in any religious rituals or rites
identify or affiliate with a religious group, denomination, or
Secularization is a historical process whereby a
given society becomes less religious over time. Whereas secularism
implies ideology, social movement, political agenda, how things
ought to be.
Jeffersonian secularism is the political
position that church and state ought to be separate and that
government ought to be as neutral as possible when it comes to
religion in the public square. This version of secularism is what
used to be called disestablishmentarianism.
growing in virtually all nations for which we have data. The vast
majority of people who walk away from religion don't miss it.
2014 December 3
Since 2000, Russia has been ruled by an
elite with origins in the old KGB. Horrified by the collapse of the
Soviet Union, a group of KGB officers hid state money in offshore
banks and used it to take over Russia. They maintain control by
issuing contradictory regulations that force everyone to violate one
law or another.
Vladimir Putin emerged as king of the
thieves. After he became president in 2000, he preserved some of the
language of reform in his public statements. He remained open to
relationships with NATO and with American and European leaders and
he regularly attended meetings of the G8. But he never abandoned his
KGB methods. He made no attempt to encourage entrepreneurial
capitalism in Russia or to create a legal system that would allow
small businesses to grow. People who did not play by his rules were
Putin systematically destroyed the nascent
institutions of liberal democratic society. He refused to tolerate
any real political opposition and eviscerated independent media. In
place of a genuine media and a real civil society, Putin and his
inner circle set up a system for manufacturing disinformation and
2014 December 2
Ukraine in NATO? Nein
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko
says he would like to hold a referendum on NATO membership. NATO
General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg confirms the right of every
sovereign nation in Europe to apply for NATO membership. Russian
President Vladimir Putin sees NATO membership for Ukraine
as a red line. Only the Baltic states and Poland currently support
Ukrainian accession to NATO.
Steinmeier: "Für die Bündnisfrage gilt: Ich sehe partnerschaftliche
Beziehungen der Ukraine mit der NATO, aber keine Mitgliedschaft."
Islamic State is determined to reshape the
Mideast as a unitary Caliphate. The number of Christians in Iraq has
dwindled from a million in 2003 to a quarter that number today. Half
a million Assyrians have fled, as have thousands of Armenians and
Greeks. Syria is even worse off. Arab states need to convince their
populations that the extremism of Islamic State is
destroying tolerant Islam.
2014 December 1
Marine Le Pen wins the support of her National
Front party for a presidential run: "Messieurs Sarkozy and Hollande,
you have failed in everything. You were entrusted with a treasure:
France. You were entrusted with a diamond: its people. You damaged
one. You abandoned the other."
Le Pen, 46, is polling ahead
in the presidential race for May 2017. With her anti-immigrant
stance and pledges to leave the euro and the EU, she has set the
agenda in a bleak political landscape.
AR Adieu, old EU.
||© J. Andrew Ross